The Safe Haven That Is Teesside

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Haworth Evening Gazette

Treatment of asylum seekers on Teesside was thrown into the national spotlight recently.

A woman who had fled from Kenya wrote in a national newspaper of ill treatment and abuse she claimed she faced in Middlesbrough.

It prompted the Evening Gazette to issue a "Speak Out against Racism" challenge.

Here Simon Haworth talks to some asylum seekers now living on Teesside about their stories of why they have left their home countries to seek refuge in the UK and what life is now like for them...

One day last year Zahara's husband left the family home and never came back.

Yussuf walked into Mogadishu, the war-torn capital of Somalia, and disappeared forever.

Tribal in-fighting had made Zahara's homeland among the most dangerous places in the world. Her two brothers had already been killed in the troubles and now her husband's fate was unknown.

To prevent her children facing the same dire struggle to live beyond their thirties, Zahara made the toughest decision of her life.

She turned her back on her homeland, leaving her mother and sister, and got on a plane into the unknown.

Fourteen months later Zahara and her children are living in central Middlesbrough.

Now Zahara's biggest worry is that her asylum application fails and she is forced to return to Somalia.

Middlesbrough has proven to be her safe haven. Her four children, aged five to 11, are attending school and enjoying life.

"I am happy here. I don't see shooting and dying. I feel safe," she said.

Her experiences of the town are in stark comparison to those of fellow asylum seeker Kenyan Kamwaura Nygothi.

Kamwaura claimed she had grown men and women refuse to sit next to her on buses, that she was punched hard in the back by a muscular man, yelled at to go home, spat at by young boys and had stones hurled at her. Others are said to have dismissed her with "monkey" taunts.

But although she has faced some racism, Zahara has in general felt welcomed and helped by the Teesside people.

She said: "People are kind and friendly, neighbours are good to me and we speak.

"There are some children, teenage boys who say stuff. That will always happen."

These incidents are not worth worrying about, said Zahara, compared to her experiences at home.

She said: "In Somalia there was fighting on the street. When I saw our neighbours die I thought we were going to die. …